book review: little fires everywhere


This book was so emotional for me. It explores relationships between mothers and children, particularly asking the big question: What makes a mother?  Biology? More?

The writing in this book is riveting. Beautiful, particularly since one of the characters is a mixed media artist, and I feel like I always had a very clear picture of what she was creating.

Race is a huge theme in this book.  The author makes her own opinions vividly clear--there are no redeeming qualities in the older white characters who 'try' but always miss the mark when it comes to understanding. I get the feeling that the author believes she is presenting a hopeful view of the future by allowing the white youth to be more understanding, but it makes me sad to think that she looks at me as a lost cause. 

(I need to confess that I'm a white foster parent, so I know my opinions are going to be shaped by my own personal experience.  I don't know how to say too much about the book without some spoilers, so... fair warning. Limited spoilers ahead.)

There's definitely a huge push in this story to support the birth parent who "just made one bad decision." The book presents an extremely false narrative I've often heard pushed in TV and movies that sensationalize the DHS workers who are desperate to keep kids away from their birth parents. That. Doesn't. Happen. Even most parents who have physically assaulted their children are given supervised visitation. The entire system is set up to reunify families-of-origin, NOT to create new families through adoption. But I read on and allowed her to sensationalize this for the sake of the story, even though it presents a hugely false narrative of how the system functions.

The book's biggest failing is the HUGE HUGE HUGE straw man she writes as the foster/potential adoptive mom in this book. Almost pathetic. The author sets herself up with the most ridiculous softball. I mean, if you're going to write what is supposed to be a compelling 'which mother is better', let's not have the foster mom say things like "I guess I never noticed we had only white baby dolls" or pull out an old racist, 50's-era 'heirloom' children's book as her only reading material that featured faces that match the child's. Frown. Author, you could have at least let her try. Not all foster parents are clueless white people who would say their honest idea of cultural exposure is Chinese take-out. Absurd and you lose points for taking it way too easy on yourself. You could have actually made the battle worth watching.

The saddest scene in this book for me is the conversation between two characters immediately after one of them has elected to have an abortion. The line is, "Would you have been ready to be a good mother? The kind of mother you'd have wanted to be? The kind of mother a child deserves?" The heart-wrenching selfishness of this line chills me to my core, especially because the author clearly intends it to be empowering and cleansing. 

She continues, "You'll always be sad about this. But it doesn't mean you made the wrong choice. It's just something you have to carry." The selection of the word 'carry'... shivers

The best scene in this book is when the foster/would-be-adoptive mother was on the stand in Family Court. The author intersperses the lawyer's questions with flashing memories of caring for the child. You watch the foster mom become more and more unhinged, realizing that four nights of no sleep when baby had a fever isn't enough for the legal system to view her as the mom. With each question, she recalls something else sacrificial she has done for this child (while her birth mother was entirely absent) while she recognizes that it won't be enough to change their perspective. Her mind is filled with thoughts that seemed so clear: I'm the only mother this child has ever known... But it isn't enough, and the author makes it clear that she believes biology trumps anything else and that any mistake can be forgiven for a 'real' family member. 

Bottom Line: Riveting story and truly compelling characters, but sensationalizes the reality of the system and lobs a softball straw-man to make a statement.